Featured image: Sam Rye
aAh! Literary Editor Sam Rye explores the delight in getting lost within the Manchester Poetry Library, the city’s first dedicated poetry library. In this edition of Wandering Moods, Rye will be reading and retelling his experience with Salvage by Michael Crummey.
I am in the Manchester Poetry Library because I have come to pick a collection at random from the shelves to read, and to also hide from the weather. Outside, the wind is making itself known, ringing out a steely chain of notes using whatever instruments it can find in the city’s streets. For contrast, the only sounds in the library are the small steady underscore of the ventilation and the assistant’s intermittent typing at the front desk; a hospitable, intimate spin on what Larkin conceives as our ‘intricate rented world’, at work all around. Efficient, discreet.
I walk into an aisle, blindly reach out a hand. The first collection I pick up is Salvage by Michael Crummey. The front cover is of a tree stripped bare of its leaves, leaning in a wind. Yet in the poem ‘Three Landscapes’, Crummey conjures up ‘Slack water – / the unbroken silence of / prairie at noon lethargic as / the tide before it turns’. Images come into light then pale away beneath the idle weight of the rhythm, the lines more of a delightful yielding than any kind of admittance of desolation. There is an impression of wariness, perhaps even of loyal vigilance, in the way the words patrol the emptiness of the poem’s landscape, like horse’s hooves shuffling the sun-baked dust.
Soon Crummey goes berry picking in Northern Ontario, where seasons shift and leaves are ‘fringed with autumn’s yellow caution, / already anticipating a cold flood of snow, the long winter song of absence’. Two feet from where I sit, December rain traces the window like the hand of a child impatient to play. The speaker of the poem knows that time waits for no one: ‘Two months from now / this will be a different country.’ How can I doubt him? The lines are deftly plucked, not a moment too ripe in the way they fall.
Elsewhere, a crow considers the flesh of a mutilated creature, but this traditionally bleak symbol of expiration rather ‘glares like a harsh light against / a fall of new snow’. In the very moment of witnessing the bird, the speaker of the poem starts to take on its peculiarity, still in the whiteout, ‘a fulcrum of oblique attention / in the afternoon silence’. As they take leave of the scene, out of respect for the dead creature just as much as for the one now sustained by it, the poem acknowledges with a deep indentation both the transience and significance of its ‘careful detour’. As I get up to leave, a group of prospective students are being shown around the library as part of the university’s open day. They are raw from the wind, just grateful to be inside.
Sam Rye is a poet, editor, and recent graduate in English and American Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is currently studying an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature at The University of Manchester.